Calls for the Government to cap the amount of salt in
commercially produced foods is unnecessary at the moment but
should be introduced if the food industry does not keep
working at lowering salt levels, the Heart Foundation says.
A new study from the University of Otago, Wellington, found
it would be relatively easy to lower salt intake levels to
reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and stomach cancer.
New Zealanders are estimated to consume at least twice the
recommended intake of salt.
"While individuals could choose to have healthier low-salt
foods it would be much easier for them to make healthy
choices if the Government did something to help," lead author
Associate Professor Nick Wilson said.
"It could do this by regulating down the maximum level of
salt permitted in commercially produced foods, particularly
in bread, processed meats and sauces."
Professor Wilson said a tax on junk food would also help
because such food was usually high in salt as well as sugar
and saturated fat.
The study was published in the international journal PLOS
The Heart Foundation's Food Industry Setting manager Dave
Monro said it supported voluntary measures for sodium
reduction in the food industry.
There had been "considerable" progress made on some voluntary
initiatives but "more work needs to be done right across the
food supply than is happening", he said.
A regulatory approach was not needed, but that didn't rule
out regulations introduced in the future if those voluntary
measures were not proving to be successful, Mr Monro said.
The study found a healthy daily diet that reached all
nutrient recommendations - including salt intake at under 5.8
grams per day - was possible at under $9 per day.
Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich said
some food companies within the sector were working hard to
limit the salt levels in their products.
"They've looked at how you can reduce the amount of salt in
the diet without the drop being so significant that Kiwis
don't want to eat the food."
She said lowering salt levels had to be done in steps over
time and regulations to cap the amount of salt would not work
for some products.
"The main problem is you have to do your analysis category by
category, for example dairy is different to pickles, which is
different to snacks and cereals.
"A (salt) reduction of 10 per cent in pickles, for example,
may in fact wreck the product. Ditto if you take out too much
salt from bread, you may just be left with a tinful of
Salt had an important role in the food industry, from
preserving to taste, Ms Rich said.
Ministry of Health Director of Public Health Mark Jacobs said
the ministry welcomed research showing that New Zealanders
could economically achieve low-salt diets with plenty of
"The ministry does not regulate food, but develops national
nutrition policy advice, which can be used by the Ministry
for Primary Industries and Food Standards Australia New
Zealand in the development of food standards," Dr Jacobs
No one from the Ministry for Primary Industries was available
How to reduce salt:
* eat meals without adding extra salt - start by using less
salt in cooking. Taste your food before adding salt at the
* use herbs, spices and vegetable or fruit juice to add
flavour instead of stocks and sauce mixes;
* cooking food in minimal water or in the microwave helps
keep flavour so extra salt is not needed;
* when using salt, iodised table salt is recommended;
* ask for no added salt if buying takeaways;
* choose snacks without added salt; and
* choose vegetables and fish canned in water without salt.
Source: Ministry of Health